A play by Shazia Omar
AWESOME! Totally awesome! This is what we need, especially on Valentine's night– a good dose of superior theatre with a gender twist. Oh yes, 'Art is the medicine of society', as one of Shazia Omar's hilariously well-crafted characters might say, in Karma Cafe, her debut as a playwright, which was performed at Red Shift Café on February 14, 2014.
Previously, Shazia has had success with her intricate weaving of novel storylines depicting the gritty relationships of Dhaka's underbelly. In this new play she turns her talent for witty mischievous observation and no-holds barred creative expression (this is not a play for the easily offended) to the stage.
Karma Coffee is a simple tale of seven bright young singletons, looking for love and marriage, and so very much more, in the do-anything-be-anyone bubble of the Gulshan village. It's Dhaka, but it could indeed be any one of a number of urban centres in this region. The ambition of this play was staggering: to reflect on the state of our social and intimate relations, to inform and educate, but also to amuse and entertain. It could so easily have fallen into the trap of flippant slapstick or a series of disastrously boring diatribes, quite literally losing the plot . But this crew (for it is clearly a team effort) pulled off a marvelously chaotic balance of the serious, the sentimental and the satirical self-referential that left the audience laughing so hard there were moments when we had tears in our eyes.
One of the beauties of the play is the simplicity of the set-up: a pair of orphans, meeting in the café of their cake-obsessed Yasmin auntie (Neeta Manaf), who carries the comedy-of-errors storyline fantastically and is more than ably assisted by the brilliantly comedic Babu (Baizid Joardar), who plays the waiter and very nearly steals the show. The audience watches on as Ansari (Imtiaz Kibria) is conned and cajoled by his sister (Rumana Habib) into meeting four girls who might be suitable prospects for a much-needed marriage. And so, as sure as night follows day, we are presented with a procession of astutely observed caricatures. The four girls themselves are beautifully played - a greedy hard-faced businesswoman (Nissim Jan); a saintly social activist (Shehzeen Chowdhury); a yogi-hippy-chick (Afia Rashid), and a dark jazz musician (Neda Shakib). But Shazia Omar writes wickedly good lines for the men too (Mashur Chowdhury and David Browne), revealing in blunt form their charming ineptitudes, hypocrisies and base obsessions.
As the action progresses, we are treated to a succession of confessional conversations between the characters, and are uncomfortably shaken by a deeply serious commentary on women's everyday experiences of domestic violence, child marriage, date rape, abortion, eating disorders and gambling addictions.
The brilliant ensemble acting, clever and imaginative direction (direction by Amit Ashraf, who recently produced his debut movie, Udhao) and technical finesse make this play a call to action. Shazia has produced a piece that asks us to look at who we are and who we want to be.
More of this kind of theatre please.